Environment

Consultant preparing response to Goat Islands critics

Wednesday, November 27, 2013    

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ENVIRONMENTAL consultant Dr Conrad Douglas says he will complete a full reply, by today, to criticisms of his environmental management scoping study report on the Goat Islands, in response to criticisms of the report being used to guide a Cabinet decision on a framework agreement on the trans-shipment project.

Douglas made the announcement at a Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) forum yesterday at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, New Kingston. The forum offered him an opportunity to explain the position of his company, Conrad Douglas & Associates, on the scoping study it undertook on behalf of the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ), which is expected to inform Cabinet's decision on a proposed transshipment hub to be undertaken by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) on the environmentally protected Goat Islands

"We will respond to them in full. You can be absolutely sure of that. We have not read it as exhaustively as we want to and this will be done, probably before the end of the day. Tomorrow you will have a copy," Dr Douglas said yesterday.

"I think that there is a lot of misrepresentation of the facts. There is a lot of what we have said being distorted. There is a lot of misunderstanding about what is a scoping report; we have to take on board whatever comments have been made by everybody," he said.

Douglas' concession came after he was taken to tasks by environmentalists Diana McCaulay, CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust, and Robert "Bobby" Stephens, chairman of the Jamaica Conservation Development Trust at a forum sponsored by LIME and the National Commercial Bank.

After a very concise and laudable explanation of the pretensions of scoping study, which he described as a very premature evaluation of the suitability of developing a trans-shipment project in the area, Douglas had to open up to questions on why it would be used to guide the Cabinet if it is so premature.

The consultant, who has recently taken up the lead in explaining the issues triggered by the report produced for the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) by his company, also had to fend off a reference to his kinship to former People's National Party (PNP) environmental minister, Easton Douglas, who is now chairman of the National Housing Trust.

McCaulay reminded him that his brother, as minister of the environment in the People's National Party (PNP) government, declared the Portland Bight a protected area in 1999.

"I often wonder what they talk about over dinner?" she asked.

"Diana, we don't talk about much, to be quite frank, and neither of us had any choice as to who would be our brothers. You can consult with our mother and father about that," Douglas hit back.

McCaulay noted that Douglas has been insisting that the scoping study was too premature to be taken seriously in guiding the Cabinet's approach to the Chinese proposals on the Goat Islands.

"It is important that it is accurate, and it isn't accurate," she told the forum, before handing out copies of a review of the study done by experts in the field, including two US scientists who have been working in the Portland Bight area for the past 20 years.

She said that she wanted the private sector to read the review before deciding on whether the study's report was accurate enough to guide the Cabinet in January.

Stephens, meanwhile, said that he felt that Dr Douglas' explanation to the forum suggested three things: (1) that the country is in dire straits, so we need to grab at something"; (2) the area is already degraded and has been partially destroyed; and (3), as a result of that, "we really should turn a blind eye to the development of the area".

"I am a bit disturbed about that approach," he told the forum.

Stephens said, too, that although there have been several requests for the terms and conditions of the negotiations, the government has refused. "We also understand that presentations have been made to diaspora groups that have reflected a lot more information than we are getting in Jamaica," he said, suggesting that there should be a "level playing field" in terms of the exchange of information and serious discussions from an objective perspective.

Douglas said that the points raised by Stephens would be taken on board as it was not a case of the Government "grabbing" at anything.

"Nobody said that you must go in and mash up the area. It is degraded by human activities...We wouldn't be here this morning if it was a matter of turning a blind eye," Douglas said.

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